We all feel wrung out sometimes by the stress of daily life and, unfortunately, we tend to reach for junk food. But high-calorie or sugary foods only trick us into thinking we feel better. Eating healthy food (and making that a conscious choice) can actually offer some real stress relief. End the cycle of turning to foods when you’re stressed and find relief elsewhere. Instead, add these truly anti-stress foods to your diet.
1. Snack on Nuts
Stress depletes our B vitamin stores and snacking on nuts helps replenish them. B vitamins keep our neurotransmitters in their happy place and help us handle the fight-or-flight stress response.
2. Add in Red Capsicum
While oranges get all of the vitamin C hype, red capsicum has about twice as much per serving. In a study, people who took high doses of C before engaging in stress-inducing activities had lower blood pressure and recovered faster from the cortisol surge than those who got a placebo. Diets loaded with vitamin-C-rich foods lower cortisol and help people cope.
3. Serve Salmon Twice a Week
To keep your wits about you when life gets hairy, you need omega-3s, especially DHA. Studies show that people who took a daily omega-3 supplement (containing DHA and EPA) for 12 weeks reduced their anxiety by 20 percent compared to the placebo group. You won’t get the same mood boost from the omega-3s in flax, walnuts and soy, though, so shoot for about 2 servings a week of wild salmon or other oily fish and/or talk to your health practitioner about DHA supplements.
4. Bust Out the Spinach
This leafy-green veggie is rich in stress-busting magnesium. People with low magnesium levels are more likely to have elevated C-reactive protein levels-and research shows people with high CRP levels are more stressed and at a greater risk for depression. Magnesium helps regulate cortisol and blood pressure and since magnesium gets flushed out of the body when you’re stressed, it’s crucial to get enough. Other solid magnesium sources: beans and brown rice.
5. Fill Up on Oats
Oatmeal is warm and comforting and it also helps your brain generate the destressing neurotransmitter serotonin. Any carb won’t do, however. Refined carbs (white bread and pasta) digest faster and spike blood sugar, messing with moods and stress. Complex carbs like oats are digested more slowly and don’t spike blood sugar.
6. Sip Tea
Studies discovered that tea drinkers de-stressed faster and had lower cortisol levels than those who drank a placebo. Although (caffeinated) black tea was used in the studies, caffeine revs the stress response in many people, so if in doubt, stick to decaf and herbal teas. Drinking herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint or ginger can be wonderfully soothing to the digestive tract, which can help with stress by calming the nervous system in your gut.
In a nutshell, more evidence is mounting that the delicate balance of bacteria in our guts affect our moods, stress levels, anxiety and sleep. Our gut does more than help us digest food; the bacteria in our intestines have been implicated in everything from our mental health and sleep, to weight gain and cravings for certain foods. For more information on how our gut works as a second brain, and just how crucial gut microbes are in affecting our moods and mental health, click here.